MOVIE REVIEW | Field of Dreams (1989)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Gets to the point, implies enough to spark our own imaginations and always knows when a point has been made and it’s time to move on.”

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“They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”

Field of Dreams is a movie that I remember having a huge cultural impact at the time.  But as an eight or nine year old, it looked like boring, grown up stuff.  Field of Dreams is a movie that I’ve spent the last couple of decades assuming was cornball, cheese.  But it turns out, Field of Dreams is grown up, cornball cheese that uses those ingredients perfectly to make an undeniably great movie that has aged amazingly well.  Or maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age.

A newbie farmer, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is working his Iowa cornfields one day when a mysterious voice whispers, “If you built, he will come”.  When his nearby wife (Amy Madigan) and daughter (Gaby Hoffman) don’t hear the voice, Ray tries to tell himself he’s just imagining things.  But in no time, he’s decided the voice is real and telling him that the “it” he needs to build is a full sized baseball diamond on his cornfields.  Not only that, he convinces his wife to go along with it.  Not the best farmer to begin with, replacing his valuable crop space with a baseball field makes locals think he’s crazy, and turns his already precarious financial position into a legit emergency.  The bank is about to foreclose, and his brother in law (Timothy Busfield) is circling like a vulture to pick up the land cheap for a property development.

Once the field is completed, it’s visited one night by the ghost of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), one of the disgraced Chicago “Black Sox” who threw the 1919 World Series.  “Shoeless” Joe was a point of contention between Ray and his deceased father, and just might be the key to Ray coming to terms with that relationships and the regrets he’s had over never being able to make peace with his father before his death.

But before that can happen, the voice inspires Ray to track down reclusive 60s counter culture author, Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) and the aging Doc Graham (Burt Lancaster).  In his youth, the then “Moonnllight” Graham played one innings of major league baseball, never even getting a single at bat.  But like the field, “Shoeless” Joe and Terrence Mann, Graham might have his own part to play in Ray’s reconciliation with his dad.

The real surprise with Field of Dreams, and what I think makes it still work as a movie a quarter of a century after its release, is its pacing.  This movie is lightning fast.  There’s a brief voiceover intro from Ray explaining his strained relationship with his father, his mild rebellions, his love of baseball and his decision to buy the farm.  Then we’re straight into “If you build it, he will come”.  Less than half an hour in, he’s heard the voice, accepted the voice, convinced his wife that they need to build the baseball diamond, and met the ghost of “Shoeless” Joe.  And I really appreciated its brevity.
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If Field of Dreams was made today, it would be at least two and half hours long, there’d be unnecessary flashbacks to literally show us the unravelling of Ray’s relationship with his father, there’d be a montage of his struggles learning to become a farmer, there’d be psychiatrist visits when he starts hearing the voice, there’d be pointless objections from his wife, even though the building of the field is inevitable, there’d be a trip into the corn to blatantly show the audience where the ghosts come from.  Instead, in 1989, Phil Alden Robinson wrote and directed a movie that gets to the point, implies enough to spark our own imaginations and always knows when a point has been made and it’s time to move on.

Kevin Costner gives one of the most bland, boring, flat performances you’re ever likely to see committed to film, yet somehow, it’s perfect.  The story is broad fantasy, the themes are already overflowing with sentimentality.  Those aspects are so big, it takes this small, non-performance from Costner to ground everything and keep it from floating away, right up its own fantastical and sentimental ass.  Add to that James Earl Jones as Costner’s perfect curmudgeonly foil and surprisingly effective comic relief, and you get one of the most inexplicable comedy duos I’ve ever seen.

Field of Dreams
Written By – Phil Alden Robinson
Directed By – Phil Alden Robinson

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about Field of Dreams?
Roger Ebert
The Guardian
Bill’s Movie Emporium

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